John Comfort Fillmore.

Lessons in musical history online

. (page 1 of 12)
Online LibraryJohn Comfort FillmoreLessons in musical history → online text (page 1 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook























THIS little book is the result of the author's own efforts to interest
his pupils in the History of Music and to give them an outline
of that history, presenting its salient facts in a clearer per-
spective than he could find in any text-book he had tried
to use. Since the book was begun, the excellent history of
Dr. Langhans has appeared in English, but the translation
is so clumsy as not to preclude the necessity of some other text-book
for English-speaking students. There still remains the need of an
exhaustive history to follow such an outline as is here attempted. Those
who read German can find it in the admirable histories of Von Dommer
and Ambros ; but the counterparts of these Avorks are not yet to be
found in English. ChappelTs history, so far as it has gone, is interesting,
and instructive to discriminating readersj but its author seems too
opinionated and too~unbalanced to ~Be thoroughly trusted as a guide.
Rowbotham is valuable to those who can devote attention to such
details as the minute study of Greek rhythms and other fine points of
ancient music, and will be interesting even to those who can read it but
superficially. But the second of his two large volumes already pub-
lished only brings us through the music of the Greek tragedy. The
histories of Burney and Hawkins are not to be forgotten, but they are,
of course, antiquated. Macfarren's, Ritter's, Bouavia Hunt's, Kockstro's
and others are outlines only.

The most important auxiliary to the English speaking student of
musical history is Grove's " Dictionary of Music and Musicians," by far
the most complete encyclopedia yet published in English, a library in
itself. It ought to be accessible to every student of music. There is a
short "Dictionary of Music and Musicians" appended to \V. S. B.
Mathews' "How to Understand Music," which will be found very
handy for reference. The book itself is valuable reading, and a second
volume, now in preparation, will cover important ground in the history
of music. Naumann's History is valuable for its illustrations. Many
of these are also to be found in Mendel's ".Conversations-lexicon," the
most extensive musical encyclopedia for those who read German. A
smaller, but most valuable German encyclopedia is Dr. Hugo Riemann's
41 Musikalisches Conversations-Lexikon." Among special histories


Kiemann's ' Studien zur Gesschichte der Notenschrift," is perhaps the
most important contribution to our knowledge made in recent years.
It ought to be translated into clear and readable English. Dr. Eiemann
is doubtless the greatest living musical theorist and no student of music
can afford to ignore his works. Unfortunately none of them have been
translated except his lecture on " The Nature of Harmony " and his
" Comparative Piano School."

In biography we are better off. The series entitled " The Great
Musicians," edited by Franz Hueffer is strongly to be recommended..
Its American publishers are Scribner and Welford, New York. Kara-
sowski's " Life of Chopin " is now to be had in English. This is the
stand ird biography of Chopin. Liszt's " Chopin " is interesting but is,
in some respects, inaccurate and misleading. Schumann's Essays are
well-known and so is Wasielwski's " Life of Schumann." It is matter
of pride to Americans that the standard life of Beethoven is the
production of an American, A. W. Thayer. Unfortunately, it has thus
far appeared only in German. The works connected with Mendelssohn's
name are numerous and valuable ; his letters are especially charming.
" Music and Morals " and " My Musical Memories," by the Rev. H. R.
Harries, are excellent reading. But I will not further extend a list
which could hardly be made exhaustive. The student who_ makes hia
own choice of the books here enumerated will know how to discriminate-
as to his further reading.

Milwaukee, Wis n November 1887. J. C. F.



IN the logical order of thought, the considera-
tion of the nature of music naturally precedes the
investigation of its function. But its function
was undoubtedly perceived ages before there was
any thought of investigating its nature on scien-
tific principles. We shall not go astray, then,
perhaps, if we first try to imagine to ourselves
what the first music in the world must have been
and why people practiced it. If we can get at
the real motive which impelled people to make
music we shall surely become enlightened as to
its real function in the economy of human nature.
The insight we thus gain will serve as a sure
guide through all the mazes of musical history.

We may assume as certain that the first ele-
mentary efforts at music were vocal, and not
instrumental. For the human voice was certainly
in existence before any other musical instruments
were invented. People sang before they had
instruments to play on. Mothers crooned to their
babes, rocking them backward and forward in
their arms as they hushed them to sleep. Men
shouted defiance to their enemies in inarticulate
cries and yells. Young men and maidens danced,
and sung to their dancing. We may be sure of
these things, because they are to be found among
the most primitive and savage peoples of our own
time, and because we have authentic accounts of
them among ancient primitive peoples. Human
nature is essentially the same in all ages and under


The nature and
function of

The earliest
music not
but vocal.




The function
of mutic if to
e-jrfireff and
excite feeling.

The nature of

Primitire mutic
made up of
melody and

all conditions, and we cannot doubt that the
impulse which leads to such manifestations now

our remotest ancestors to express their feelings
in similar ways.

This phrase "express their feelings" suggests-
at least one of the motives which impelled people
i to sing. The savage yells at his enemy because
his yelling is the natural expression of his emo-
tional excitement. The mother croons to her babe
because she feels like doing so. It is the natural
expression of her emotional state. But this is not
all. She does so because of its effect on the child.
She knows intuitively that this monotonous, meas-
ured flow of sound, the expression of her own
quiet happiness, will soothe the infant into a rest-
ful state of feeling and dispose it to slumber. The
warrior feels that the expression of his rage by
means of violent sounds will excite his comrades
to valor and perhaps strike terror into his ene-
mies. The singing of the dancers is equally expres-
sive of their emotional state, and tends to excite
those feelings to still greater activity. Vocal
music, then, is a natural product of human nature,
and its function is to express and excite feeling,

In the primitive music above referred to we
find two of the essential elements of all music
Melody and Rhythm. Melody is a succession of
single musical sounds, differing more or less in
pitch. Rhythm is a succession of beats or pulsa-
tions occurring at regular intervals. There is a
natural tendency in human nature to make all
melody rhythmic. The mother's low song to her
babe naturally falls into regularly recurring
rhythmic divisions, accompanied by corresponding
movements of the body. Rhythm is of the very
essence of the dance; and the rhythmic motions
of the dancers are accompanied with rhythmic



The beginnings
of instrumental


song, the clapping of hands and the stamping of
feet. The element of rhythm becomes most
strongly marked in war dances. In these the
motions are violent, the songs loud and harsh
and the rhythm often marked by the striking of
war clubs on hollow logs or on some resounding
instrument of percussion.

Instruments of percussion were, doubtless, the
first to be invented. From marking the rhythm
by pounding on a tree or post with a club, it
was not far to covering the end of a hollow log
with a ^tretched skin, thus producing a rude
drum. CProgres| was then easy toward the whole
family of drums, tom-toms, gongs, cymbals,
tambourines, etc., the latter kind as soon as metals
and metal working had been discovered. Wind
instruments were probably invented by some such
accident as hearing a broken reed give forth a
musical tone when blown across by the wind.
The Egyptian and Greek myth has it that the god
Hermes, walking by the Nile bank, picked up a
tortoise shell which had some sun-dried membranes
stretched across it, and that this gave him the idea
of the lyre. It is not improbable that some such
accident as this really occasioned the invention of
stringed instruments. Or perhaps the idea came
from a tightly-stretched bowstring. However
this may be, the first instrumental music must
have been associated with vocal music, and must
have been essentially the same in its nature and
function. That is, it consisted of rhythmical
successions of sounds, which owed their origin to
the innate impulse to express, convey and excite

As time went on and the savage developedmto
the barbarian, and from the barbarian into the
"civilized man, there was, we know, a gradual

Sensuous beaut j
of tone.



The intellectual
fitment in


growth in refinement. This improvement showed
'tselflnTlnusicanperception as well as elsewhere.
The power of discriminating qualities of tone, like
other faculties, grows with use and attention, and
sensuous beauty of tone gradually came to be
regarded as a refined sensuous pleasure in itself.
It was enjoyed apart from its emotional signifi-
cance, just as the perfume of a rose is. So we find
it now. There are persons who lay undue stress
the element of sensuous beauty in music,


disregarding other and higher considerations. To
such, music becomes a sensuous indulgence
refined, indeed, but still involving a minimum of
intellectual and moral quality.

In the course of time the awakened human in-
tellect began to deal with music as with other sub-
jects in which men were interested. Philosophers
began to investigate the physical and mathematical
relations of tones, and thus arose the science of
ACOUSTICS. Composers began to analyze rhythms
and to balance groups of small rhythmical units
against each other to make symmetrically larger
units, and thus began the science and art of
MELODIC FORM. They also began to combine
two and afterward more melodies sounding at
the same time into one whole, and thus arose

They learned to secure Unity in these composi-
tions by using the same melody as a second voice-
part, only beginning it some time after the first. Thus
arose Strict and afterward Free IMITATION. From
this principle were developed, in the strict style,
CANON and FUGUE. From the free treatment of

* " Counterpoint " means "point against point." The
term was first used before our modern notes were in-
vented, when points were used to indicate tones.



imitations were developed all the modern forms.
This unity of idea, secured by developing a com-
position through varied repetitions of a few melodic
ideas (Themes or Motives), is called THEMATIC

Once the idea of combining melodies had been
developed, the step was inevitable to thinking
sounds in combinations, or Chords. It took a long
time before men learned to think complex music
otherwise than as combinations of simultaneously
progressing melodies. They thought it horizontally,
so to speak. But after a time they learned to
think it perpendicularly. That is, they learned to
think of each combination of simultaneously sound-
ing tones (chord) as a musical unit ; and they
gradually found out the laws governing the
natural relations of succession chords. The science
of chords and of their successions and relations is
called HARMONY.

Finally, men developed the art of combining
and contrasting the different qualities of tones
produced by different kinds of instruments so as to
produce beautiful effects, and to heighten and
intensify emotional expression. This is the art of
belong to the intellectual element in music. Logi-
cally and historically, they come after the emo-
tional and sensuous enjoyment of music.

The imagination is the great constructive
faculty. In the beginning of music it had only
the simplest elements of melody and rhythm as
material with which to deal. But it dealt with
these in their relation to feeling, and the folk-songs
of all nations are the sincere, spontaneous expression
of natural feeling. Gradually, as the sensuous
perception and the intellectual .elements in music
were developed, the food for the imagination










Relatire rank
of compoteri
and their icorkt.

became richer and more varied, until we have
now a wealth of musical material sufficient to tax
the imaginative power of a Beethoven or a

To sum up, then, music is, in its nature, that
one of the Fine Arts which has for its material
musical tones. It affords us enjoyment on its
lowest plane through the discrimination of refined
from coarse tones and by combinations and con-
trasts of different qualities of tone. The pleasure
thus derived is refined, but it is sensuous merely.
Music adds to this very high intellectual enjoy-
ment. In its more elaboratic forms, such as the
fugue, the sonata, the symphony, the music-drama,,
it taxes the intellectual resources of both composer
and student in equal degree with the greatest
intellectual productions of the human mind in
other fields of activity. It thus adds intellectual
to sensuous enjoyment, and so ranks high in the
scale of mental activities.

But its primary and ultimate function is to-
express, convey and excite feeling. To this the
sensuous and intellectual elements are subordinate.
The imagination reaches its highest flights and
performs its most legitimate function when it
deals with its musical materials in their relation,
to emotion.

The rank of a composer, like that of any other
creative artist, depends, first of all, on the vigor,
vividness and fertility of his imagination. Crea-
tive power means the gift of spontaneous invention*
It can neither be learned nor taught ; it is an
original gift which can neither be acquired nor
accounted for. This is it which is commonly called
Genius. Nothing else can take the place of it.
Wherever it appears, as it does here and there
among men, and often under the most unexpected



and apparently unpromising conditions, the world
does not willingly let it die. Men may be slow in
recognizing it ; but once acknowledged, it becomes
a precious and immortal possession for the whole
race. Next to this in importance comes what is
commonly called Talent. This means a special
aptitude for artistic perception and attainment,
and for applying acquired ideas, without much
original power of invention. In its higher mani-
festations talent so closely approximates the lower
orders of genius that it is often not easy to distin-
guish them, and there are many cases that have
occasioned dispute among critics.

Butwhether a composer be_^osessedpfggniu8
or only of talent, it is absolutely essential that fie
shouIdTJave"Tn8 mmft~nnrpIy J ltoTett with musical
material, and should navg



the intellectual side. He must, first of all, have
material for his imagination to deal with, must
acquire musical experience. Accordingly, we find
that all the great masters of composition have
diligently studied the works of their predecessors
and have missed no opportunities to hear the best
music. They have studied them also from the
intellectual and technical side ; have become mas-
ters of the technic of composition. They have
realized that no matter what ideas a composer
may have, he can only become an artist by acquir-
ing the power to express them. This they have
done by infinite painstaking, and so much have
they been impressed with the necessity of this,
that the greatest of them have repeatedly said, in
one form or other, that genius is only the art of
taking pains !

But this is not enough. Given an original,
creative mind, with acute musical perceptions,
ample intellectual and technical attainments and

Need of ttudy.

The moral




Principles of


a clear comprehension of the relation of music to
feeling, it still remains for him to decide what
kind of emotion he will choose to embody in music.
He may choose noble or ignoble subjects ; he may,
if he chooses, treat noble subjects in an ignoble
way. This has often been done by composers of
music for religious worship and for the drama.
Nor can he escape moral choices even in purely
instrumental music. He may make his music as
high in aim as the Beethoven fifth symphony, or
as unheroic, not to say frivolous and base, as an
Offenbach waltz. This will depend on his own
moral character. Base men cannot write great
music, nor heroic men ignoble music; though
even weak men may have their heroic moments,
and noble men their weak ones. But, other
things being equal, the rank of a composer will
depend on the nobility of his feeling and of his
moral purpose. The relative rank of his works
will depend on the degree in which they embody
the noblest and best that is in* him.

The principles above set forth are those which
will determine the judgments of composers and
their works which are to follow in this book. It
will seek to trace the development of the different
factors in musical production and in musical
enjoyment at different times and in different
nations. It will seek to show how and why the
course of musical history became what it was.
This the author regards as of even more import-
ance than an authentic record of historical facts.





How do we seek to gain an insight into the nature of
music ?

What natural impulses of human nature produced
primitive music? Give illustrations.

What are the primitive elements of music?

Give the probable origin of primitive instruments.

How did men come to a more discriminating percep-
tion of the difference in quality of tone ?

Give an account of the intellectual element in music.

How many kinds of enjoyment are derivable from
music ?

On what does the rank of a composer depend ?

Why do even gifted composers need study and experi-

What relation has music to the moral nature of man ?


*i*^A/*^f^^ ^/W

I. Chinese Instruments. The " Che" " or " Wonderful," a 25-stringed
instrument, and the " Po-son," a small drum.

II. The earliest Egyptian Harp.

III. Greek Instruments, (a) Plectrum, (b) Kithara, (c) Psaltery or
long lyre, (d) Chelys, a small lyre.

IV. Greek Instruments, (a) and (c), Varieties of the Lyre.
(b) Trigonon.




Music, as we know it, in .its developed form
as a line art, belongs to the jChristian Era,ltncl
practically, to tEeTast four centuries. It is the
latest born of the family of fine arts, and is
that one of them which specially corresponds
to the needs of emotional expression as devel-
oped by Christianity.

Nevertheless, music in its more elementary
forms, and even in a considerable degree of
development, as regards melody, has existed for
thousands of years, among nations and races
the most various and diverse. Harmony, coun-
ter-point, form and instrumentation's we know
them, are modern and occidental. But the most
ancient of Oriental civilizations, in China, in
India, in Persia, in Egypt and especially in
Greece, used and prized melody, established
scales, investigated acoustics, and had, possi-
bly, more knowledge of harmony and of instru-
mental combinations than we have yet been
able to discover. (See illustration I.)

In all ancient nations music was believed to
be of divine origin and in that stage of mental
development when mythologies invariably arise
there was always a mythology connected with
the art of music. In India the gift of music
was ascribed to BRAHMA. To his son, NARED,
was ascribed the invention of the Vina, an in-
strument of the guitar type. In Egypt the
invention of the lyre was ascribed to the god
THAUT, who, walking one day by the Nile, took
up a tortoise shell to which some dried mem-
branes still adhered, accidentally set them in


Music a recent

3Telody ohter
than harmony.

This chapter








fttfi'ibuted to

vibration and thus produced musical tones. In
Greece a similar legend attached to HERMES.
Other similar examples might be cited from
China and elsewhere. (See illustrations II, III
and IV.)

Miraculous powers were attributed to music
and musicians. Some of the ancient sacred
songs in India produced rain ; some produced
darkness. Others no mortal might sing under
penalty of destruction by fire from heaven.
Others when sung forced men, animals and in-
animate objects to obey the will of the singer.
In Greece, ORPHEUS and AMPHION were followed
by trees and by wild animals which lost their
ferocity when they heard their songs. In Judea,
the walls of Jericho fell at the sound of the
priests' trumpets. These legends serve to show
how great was the impression produced on the
minds, feelings and imaginations of the ancients
by such music as they had.

In all the pre-Christian civilizations music
was regarded as an elevating exercise of the
feelings, intellect and imagination, and an im-
portant element of culture. Theorists occupied
themselves with the science of music, with the
determination of intervals, the construction of
scales and the building of melodies. Curiously
similar results, as regards scales, were arrived
at by nations widely remote from each other in
distance, blood, language, religion and customs.
The Chinese and the Indians seem to have had
the same pentatonic (five-toned) scale which is
still to be found in the ancient music of the
Celtic nations, such as the Irish and Scotch. It
is simply our major diatonic scale with the
fourth and seventh omitted. These intervals
were supplied later, and this scale, which we
call " natural," was found equally satisfactory

regarded as





by Oriental barbarians whose ideas and feelings
are incomprehensible to us. But the musical
results they otained from it, especially in China,
are such as do not in the least appeal to our
musical sympathies. In fact they often outrage
our musical susceptibilities, as our music does
theirs. Some of the ancient nations also had a
five-toned under-scale afterwards developed into
:an eight-toned one. This last was the reciprocal
of the major or over-scale, having the same
order of tones and semi-tones going down that
the over-scale has going up. Examples :

Five-toned over-scale :

Five-toned under-scale: CZ2 ^ ^

In both these pentatonic scales the fourth
and seventh, i. e., the intervals which give the
semitones or " leading-note " progressions are
left out and were afterwards supplied.

All these ancient nations had stringed instru-
ments, wind instruments of wood and of metal
and instruments of percussion. In China, the
latter class predominates. To India we proba-
bly owe the invention of stringed instruments
played with a bow. Egypt and Greece made
common use of stringed instruments plucked
with the fingers or with a plectrum, such as the
lyre and the harp, the percursors of our modern
harpsichord and piano-forte.

The splendid intellectual civilization of the
Greeks included an elaborate musical system.
The beginnings of Greek musical theory were

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryJohn Comfort FillmoreLessons in musical history → online text (page 1 of 12)